Carcanet Press Logo
Quote of the Day
an admirable concern to keep lines open to writing in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and America.
Seamus Heaney


The Complete Catullus

Isobel Williams

Cover of Switch: The Complete Catullus by Isobel Williams
10% off all versions
Categories: 21st Century, Ancient, Ancient Greek and Roman, Art, British, Classical, Erotic, Humour, Translation, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Classics
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (220 pages)
(Pub. Aug 2023)
£16.99 £15.29
eBook (EPUB) Needs ADE!
(Pub. Aug 2023)
£13.59 £12.23
Digital access available through Exact Editions
To use the EPUB version, you will need to have Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) installed on your device. You can find out more at Please do not purchase this version if you do not have and are not prepared to install, Adobe Digital Editions.
  • Description
  • Author
  • Reviews
  • During the latter phases of Covid, Isobel Williams completed her celebrated translations of the polyamorous ancient Roman poet Catullus. The poems that proved impossible when she prepared Shibari Carmina, published to acclaim in 2021, finally surrendered to her. 'Translating Catullus has been, for me, like cage fighting with two opponents, not just A Top Poet, but the schoolgirl I was, trained to show the examiner that she knew what each word meant.' The conflict was resolved by a third component, the context of shibari, a Japanese form of rope bondage with its own knotty terminology. Due to its severe restraints Catullus came alive in all his 'tormented intelligence and romantic versatility'. Critics called the work 'explosive and impactful', 'one of the most exciting translation volumes of recent years', 'lyrical, funny, engaging, and insightful', 'a bracingly foul, but also a shrewd and funny Catullus' – 'Isobel Williams' naughty translation puts the Roman poet in a bondage dungeon.' He will never be quite the same again.

    Switch joins Carcanet's Classics series. Like its incomplete predecessor it is illustrated with bondage drawings by the translator herself. She adds a 'who shagged whom' chart so readers can move confidently from one engagement to the next.
    Isobel Williams was educated at Woking Girls' Grammar School and Somerville College, Oxford. She blogs about live-drawing, has held solo exhibitions in London and Oslo, and has written for publications ranging from The Amorist to International Journal for the Semiotics of Law . She wrote and illustrated The Supreme Court: a ... read more
    'This new version of Catullus certainly contains more than its fair share of lively wit and astonishing originality, but Williams goes much further than others have done in making this very much her own work rather than simply a clever translation of the text. ... This book is extraordinary in every way. It takes poems which we have read many times and makes us see them with fresh eyes. The theme of Shibari is both a unifying feature and also a distancing technique, adding a flavour of the exotic and the bizarre which lurks beneath the all-too familiar surface of this poetry. Switch fizzes with new ideas and forces us to re-read and re-evaluate this most quixotic of poets afresh.'

    John Godwin, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

    'Japanese rope bondage seems an odd way in to Catullus, and these poems are often discomforting or actively shocking: but so is Catullus, especially if you sit down to read right through it... But Williams has found a way to pinpoint what is most distinctive about most of Catullus - a combination of passion with the utmost artifice. I think it's a significant achievement.'

    Victoria Moul, Horace & friends

    'I could go on to discuss the skilful paring of text and images, the many exquisite turns of phrase, or the resonance of the title... to get a sense of what it would have been like for a Roman to first read Catullus's work, buy a copy of this.'

    Ed Beford, Indiependent

        'Razor-edged and completely 2023 - translation in the most vibrant sense. It's often strikingly undergraduate and a welcome riposte to all the doomy codes that seem these days to police every action.'

    Richard Lofthouse, QUAD (Oxford Alumni)

    Praise for Isobel Williams 'Explosive and impactful... a compelling and impressive project which translates for us not only the words of these ancient texts, but recontextualises them on the page, drawing out new layers of meaning and allowing us to experience them in new and novel ways.'

    Chrissy Williams, The Poetry Review

    'Williams has served up what is possibly one of the most exciting translation volumes of recent years....The book is alive and breathing.'

    Jemma L King, New Welsh Review 

     'Williams has a terrific ear, both for poetic rhythm and for speech pattterns, and her formal decisions are well-suited to Catullus' manner... Williams is lyrical, funny, engaging, and insightful, and I recommend this book to anyone interested in poetry and in Catullus.'

    Diane Arnson Svarlien, The Classical Outlook

    'Williams has created a bracingly foul, but also a shrewd and funny Catullus'

    Colin Burrow, London Review of Books 

     'Catullus is in the basement, but he's a bit tied up, literally - Isobel Williams' naughty translation puts the Roman poet in a bondage dungeon.'

    Tristram Fane Saunders, The Telegraph Best New Poetry Books 2021

    'Collage and college in one slim course, her little book teaches and teases... Her treatment of selected poems is literary charcuterie as neat as it is naughty. Criticism ceases to be inky assessment and becomes a rally, tease and treat... Shibari Carmina embellishes the literature by looping the poet in a crib spun from and around his own confections. If you fail to enjoy this sado-masochistic gem as much as I have, you can always flog it...'

    Frederic Raphael, The Critic

     'Vibrant new translation... Her art is simple, bold and evocative, and serves to draw out the frank sexuality of many of Catullus' poems.'

    Grace Bartlett, Cherwell

    'Williams's translation covers such a breadth of emotion, including the conflicting and binding pain of love- pathos that can elicit tears and hilarity blended with jarringly puerile vitriol. These emotions are shrouded in words that seem almost like momentarily written notes, and so belie Williams's skill. Each word is perfectly placed and the poems are polished till their burnished edges have lost every hint of their maker's tools.'

    Ed Bedford, The Indiependent

      'It sheds new light on Catullus's struggles as he saw them. It is a striking attempt to present his poems in the moment and is enhanced by the innovative illustrations.'

    Stuart Lyons, Classics For All
     'Williams' translation is the best I've seen by a mile.'

    John Clegg

Share this...
The Carcanet Blog Why Are You Shouting?: James Womack read more Sidetracks: Bei Dao, translated by Jeffrey Yang read more Polkadot Wounds: Anthony (Vahni) Capildeo read more Ambush at Still Lake: Caroline Bird read more On a New Blue Poets Plaque: E.J. Scovell by Michael Schmidt read more Mary O'Malley: The Shark Nursery read more
Find your local bookshop logo
Arts Council Logo
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2024 Carcanet Press Ltd